AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill to “simply outlaw tobacco altogether” would make more sense than piecemeal bans on smoking, Gov. Paul LePage said Monday as he vetoed a bill to outlaw smoking on public college campuses.
“I firmly believe Maine people are responsible enough to make their own decisions concerning tobacco,” LePage wrote in his veto letter. “However, for those who oppose its use, they should bring a bill forward to simply outlaw tobacco altogether.”
“Our various public colleges and universities can make their own decisions on whether or not to permit smoking on their campuses,” the governor wrote.
And many already have. Five of the seven University of Maine System campuses are currently smoke-free, and smoke-free policies will take effect at the remaining two, the University of Maine at Machias and the University of Southern Maine, on Sept. 1 of this year and Jan. 1, 2014, respectively.
In the Maine Community College System, one campus is currently smoke-free: Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield. A second campus, Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor, will be smoke-free starting Jan. 1, 2014.
The bill, LD 468, sponsored by independent Rep. Ben Chipman of Portland, passed the House and Senate without dissent earlier this month. The bill would have prohibited smoking, except for religious purposes, on all university and community college campuses and at Maine Maritime Academy starting Aug. 1, 2014.
Chipman said by phone Monday that his intent was to establish a uniform smoking policy for all Maine state campuses. He said he encountered very little opposition to the bill, which passed without debate or roll-call votes in the House and Senate. The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee voted 10-3 in favor of Chipman’s bill.
“Now along comes the governor and he decides he wants to be the voice of smokers,” Chipman said. “I’ll reach out to his office and talk to him. I’m hoping the House and Senate can stand by the decision we made with almost no opposition to protect the health of people who should be able to live, learn and work without having to breathe secondhand smoke.”
Last week, LePage issued a statement expressing his opposition to raising state tobacco taxes. The Legislature’s Taxation Committee last week voted unanimously to recommend against a bill that proposed raising the state tax on cigarettes from $2 to $3.50 per pack and against a separate bill that would have taxed other tobacco products, including cigars and chewing tobacco, at an equivalent rate to cigarettes.
LePage also vetoed on Monday a bill that would order a state study related to providing rental subsidies to MaineCare recipients with intellectual disabilities.
In his veto letter, LePage said it’s premature to conduct the study when DHHS is in the midst of consolidating and overhauling services for people with intellectual disabilities. He also objected to the fact that the study would increase the workload at DHHS.
Noting that the bill originally would have required DHHS to allocate $200,000 for the study, LePage wrote, “Redrafting bills to reduce the workload and claim that it will be provided ‘within available resources’ does not change the fact that additional work requires additional resources. We can no longer simply pile more initiative up without recognizing they have costs.”
Democrat Rep. Richard Farnsworth of Portland, LD 387’s sponsor, said the study would have provided information the state does not now possess.
“Maine’s contribution to their room and board is shrinking while costs for their providers are rising.” he said. “Without examining this situation, we have no way of knowing whether these Mainers are getting the care they need and deserve or whether the state is using its dollars wisely.”
Monday’s vetoes mark the seventh and eighth of this legislative session. The Legislature has sustained five of LePage’s vetoes, with consideration of an override of a sixth veto issued Friday likely to start in the House this week.
It takes two-thirds majority votes in both the House and Senate to override a veto.
BDN State House reporter Matthew Stone contributed to this report.